Monday, August 29, 2016

Plaid Pants Development

There is no way around it, Colorado’s population is growing by leaps and bounds. By the end of 2016, there should be approximately 5.474 million people living here, and it is estimated that the population will grow to 7.8 million residents by 2040. 

By United States coastal population standards, those numbers are pretty wimpy and do not garner much attention outside of our state.  But in Colorado,  a state that is already experiencing drought and long ago gave away most of its rights to the abundance of water from its mountains, it is a huge and looming problem on the horizon.  People need water to live and if we do not start responsibly advocating for water conservation today, our children and grandchildren are going to have real problems with water shortages.

Population growth is inevitable and not really the point of this article.  Elbert County will be experiencing population growth by leaps and bound in the northwest corner of the county as Aurora and Parker continue to expand.  Those who suggest that anybody who questions development projects are simply antigrowth need to reconsider their stance. There is only enough fresh water to go around, and once the Denver Bedrock Aquifer System is depleted, Elbert County has a real problem on its hands.  Like it or not, the county has no rivers and too little rainfall to sustain much growth without tying into the Denver Metropolitan water complex.  It is expensive and will continue to become even more expensive by the time our population approaches the aforementioned figures projected for 2040.

So let me delve into a common development issue in Colorado.  I grew up around golf. My father’s construction company helped to pull the Valley Country Club out of a bind due to damage from a tornado back in the day. My family became members. That did not mean I was any good at it, but I tried to do the best I could. One golf instructor described my abilities at the game as, “…remarkably dangerous!  I have never seen what can only be described as a terminal hook.”  Despite that I understand the draw of a pastoral and neatly manicured course on a sunny day.

I am not just picking on golf, but developers have long known of it ability to draw homeowners. People who move into neighborhoods built around golf courses for what a golf course can do for property values.  I do not know whether it is the game itself or just the sense of freedom that comes from spending an afternoon with friends clad in brightly colored pants.  But make no mistake,  golf has become an American passion.  

There is a downside to this concept and that is that golf courses use a tremendous amount of water. In 2005 it was reported in a federal government study of Colorado golf courses and their impact on water resources reported that 5,647.8 acre-feet was used annually in Jefferson County on its courses alone!  That was eleven years ago.  My point is that if we are going to develop in Elbert County where 98% of our homes use wells, the public needs to understand the implications of just how growth needs to be done in concert with responsible foresight.

I am not trying to suggest that any new development currently under consideration in Elbert County is going to be a golfing community. But, it could happen and it has happened in the past. This is just one of many possible scenarios that must be scrutinized when new growth occurs.  Problems could just as easily be traffic related impacts, wildlife habitat infringement or simply issues surrounding the absence of adequate schools in an a
rea. Developers, cash strapped county governments, and yes, even golfers, need to have  open minds and be prepared to engage in honest discussion with the public about the use of all available resources.

Going back to my example about a water impact issue like a developer trying to build a golf course community:  It is fair to expect that people will have serious questions for which they will demand answers.  Many people would obviously just want some assurance that they will not end up with a dry domestic well and no prospects for selling their home in the event that the growth predictions come true. Can you blame them?

There is nothing dirty about the words “smart growth.” There is however, something very troubling about a county discouraging citizen input on planning for the future.  We owe residents who are already living here and paying taxes at least the same consideration we are affording people we are trying to attract as future residents. I don’t care how sporty I look in plaid pants while wearing a jaunty Panama Jack golf hat, I need water to live out here in Elbert County.

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